Things That Matter

Cuban Man Sentenced To 14 Years For Kidnapping And Extortion Of Undocumented Immigrants

The man who led a group of criminals to prey on and kidnap undocumented women and children in an extortion scheme has been sentenced to 14 years in prison by a federal judge. Francisco Betancourt, a Cuban immigrant, led a group of other Latino, Spanish-speaking men to target Central American immigrants, who had just arrived, disoriented, at bus stops in New York City, seeking to be reunited with their families. Betancourt would use his Latinidad to gain the immigrants’ trust, then, steal their bus tickets, and coerce them to get into a cab that would ultimately cost their families well over $1,000 in “cab fees.”

District Attorney Judge John H. Durham announced Thursday that Betancourt was sentenced in New York, New York by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill to 168 months of imprisonment in the Bridgeport facility, followed by three years of supervised release. Betancourt will be 84 years old by the time he is released from prison.

Francisco Betancourt conspired with three other Latino men to carry out the kidnappings of primarily young mothers with children.

Credit: @TheWomensWatch / Twitter

“The victims included women, men, and children from Central American countries who did not speak English and were seeking asylum in the U.S,” according to a statement by the US District of Connecticut Attorney’s office. “Some of the victims planned to travel from New York to Connecticut. Telling the victims that a connecting bus was not available and that they would provide transportation, Betancourt and others coerced the victims into vehicles. The co-conspirators would then drive the victims around, sometimes for hours, and refused to release them until they or their families agreed to pay the co-conspirators an exorbitant amount of money, on average more than a $1000.”

Betancourt used his Latinidad to victimize fellow immigrants.

Credit: @migrantfreedom / Twitter

Betancourt allegedly fled Cuba on the Mariel boatlift that famously aided a mass emigration of Cubans in the 1980s. Prosecutors allege that Betancourt was one of the prisoners, convicted of theft, that Castro ejected from the island and put on a ship with other freed inmates and mentally ill people to Mariel, Florida. Betancourt has served two prison sentences in the United States since his arrival. 

His victims were often young women traveling with children. They were nearly at the end of a long, treacherous journey, often having traveled from their dangerous homes in Central America, through Mexico, and past the U.S. border. Once granted asylum, or strapped with tracking ankle devices, border authorities put them on a bus from the border to New York City. Days of traveling later, they have one more bus to catch before being reunited with family.

At times, Betancourt’s co-conspirators would pose as immigration officers to further intimidate the victims.

Credit: @icegov / Twitter

Betancourt and his crime gang could spot the families from a mile away, having been immigrants themselves. They would steal their bus tickets and immigration forms and tell them that they worked for ICE and had arranged a taxi cab service instead. With their contact information in hand, from their immigration forms, they would call their relatives and request a taxi fare (ransom) for $2,000. Often, the families didn’t have enough money on hand, and they would settle for hundreds of dollars less. Because the relatives were often undocumented, they would never report the crime. 

Half of the four-person gang of criminals have been sentenced, with another two co-conspirators awaiting their sentences.

Pascual Rodriguez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, had already been sentenced in July to nearly 12 years in prison. Upon his release, his custody will be transferred to ICE, which will promptly deport him. Carlos Antonio Hernandez and Lucilo Cabrera have both been convicted in the extortion scheme, but are awaiting their sentences. Meanwhile, Betancourt is likely to live out his remaining days in prison.

Meanwhile, folks are pointing out the similarities between Betancourt’s crimes and Trump’s policies. 

Credit: Twitter

“Strangely enough, Trump is doing the exact same thing……” tweeted Raul A. Maestri, Jr (@itsgoodtoberaul). “Can he charge Trump with the same?” asks Justin Clay (@jclaywow32). “I hope that man was named Donald J Trump,” tweeted @LindaMadison10. Trump’s administration has seen an increase in privatization of immigrant detention facilities. The stricter the punishments placed on immigrants, the more money private detention centers receive from the federal government. 

Trump’s policies have drastically increased the number of migrants in detention and privatized detention facility political action committees like the GEO Group Inc contribute 89 percent of their political donations to Republicans.

READ: Senior Border Patrol Officer Gets To Retire After Allegedly Kidnapping And Sexually Assaulting Another Agent

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What I Wish My Family Knew About How Their Vote For Trump Impacts My Life

Culture

What I Wish My Family Knew About How Their Vote For Trump Impacts My Life

fidmart85 / cantstayput / Instagram

Politics is a tricky topic for families and friends, especially when you are on opposite sides of the aisle. It’s hard not to take things personally when it comes to how those closest to you vote. Those feelings have been heightened since 2016 when President Donald Trump won on a campaign based on fear and hate. His rhetoric has never changed and his words and policies are having a real impact on the lives of millions, including me and my husband.

My family is a Cuban family living in Florida. They fit the description in more ways than one. They are a close-knit unit always visiting each other and having mini family reunions for every occasion. Covid changed that for a while but over time they have safely created a bubble with themselves. I am one of three in my immediately-extended family to leave Florida so they don’t see my life on a daily basis. I can only imagine that living in Florida would change that.

With the 2020 elections in just days, I have had some hard conversations with my family about things they’ve never understood or asked about. As a gay Latino man living in the U.S., my life hasn’t always been easy and safe. I grew up in a rural town in the Florida panhandle where it was not okay to be visibly and audibly Latino nor gay.

I was 16 when I had my first run-in with violent homophobia. I was at a keg party and I was pouring a beverage. A college student came up to me and asked if I was gay. Knowing the importance of self-preservation, I immediately said no. Without missing a beat, the man sucker-punched me in the face, called me a faggot, and ran to a waiting car that sped off.

My parents never heard that story. I lied to them when they noticed the welt on my face and told them I got elbowed at cheerleading practice. I know. I was a cheerleader and my parents couldn’t see I was gay. It was safer for me to lie and not let my parents know I was targeted for being gay, something they were in no place to accept are Cuban immigrants living in a rural, conservative southern town.

That moment instilled in me a fear that I live with to this day. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I always function at the level that I can be attacked at any time for being gay. President Trump’s rhetoric and administration has made that worse.

During President Barack Obama’s administration, I felt safe for the first time in a long time. I know that comes with some privilege, but it was the first time in in my gay life that I felt safe to be who I was. I came out to my parents. I became involved in politics to get people elected. I traveled as an openly gay man. I was no longer living in the shadows.

The 2016 elections shattered the feeling of safety and peace for me and my friends. Suddenly, all of us were on the chopping block as our rights and dignity were under attack again. The Pulse Nightclub shooting in June 2016 reminded me of how much hate there still was for people like me and the Trump campaign was fanning those flames. I was scared. My family didn’t understand why.

Most of my family voted for President Trump that year. It was a knife through the heart to know that most of my family was not concerned about my own safety and dignity. For them, President Trump’s election was more important than the very real threat he posed to millions of people.

I remember confiding in my family my fear that President Trump would try to eliminate marriage equality, won just one year before. I was made to feel like I was being dramatic. My husband and I got married the Friday after Thanksgiving because we just did not trust what the administration would do.

Four years later, Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito signaled that they want to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that made my marriage legal. How? With the help of Amy Coney Barrett, who was rushed in with just days left till election day. Marriage equality became law of the land in a 5-4 ruling.

This blow to the LGBTQ+ community comes after the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that LGBTQ+ people cannot be fired for being LGBTQ+. The ruling in June stated that LGBTQ+ were included in the Civil Rights Act under protection from discrimination based on sex.

The lawsuit brought to the Supreme Court to make discrimination against me legal was drafted by the Trump administration. The man my family voted for wanted to make me less than everyone else.

One of the first cases before the majority conservative court that could erode LGBTQ+ rights is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The case, which will be heard the day after the election, will decide if private agencies that receive government dollars can refuse people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and even religion. How is this happening in the U.S. in 2020?

I am also a recently diagnosed diabetic. The Trump administration has been a hostile enemy of the Affordable Care Act since day one. The ACA, also known as Obamacare, has become increasingly popular with Americans, especially now during the pandemic.

Another case being heard on behalf of the Trump administration is a case to dismantle the ACA once and for all. This would throw millions of people off of their healthcare and would leave millions more with pre-existing conditions without healthcare.

A vote for Trump is a vote to strip people of necessary and life-saving healthcare. We have all read the horror stories of people dying of diabetes because they couldn’t afford their insulin. The Trump administration wants us to go back to those days. The court case could force numerous people to die from treatable and manageable diseases for the sake of profit over lives.

Republicans have no plan to replace the ACA. However, they have continued to lie to the American people and claim that they do.

There are several communities under attack right now. Black lives are at stake. Abortion rights are at stake. Healthcare is at stake. Immigrant rights are at stake. Trans lives are at stake. LGBTQ+ rights are at stake. Our standing in the world is at stake. The soul of our nation is at stake.

Under this current administration, I have seen my friends live in fear that they will lose rights. I have watched friends grapple with the understanding that they have lost rights.

My family claims to care for me, and I am sure that on some level they really believe that. However, as a gay Latino man living in the Trump administration, I have grown resentful. I resent that their votes are costing me and my friends their human dignity. I resent that their vote exacerbated the ongoing pandemic that has cost more lives than it should have. I resent that they ask why I don’t visit despite voting to limit my rights and freedom.

To my family members who have voted against this administration, thank you. Thank you for standing by my side. Thank you for understanding what is at stake for me and my marriage. Thank you for rebuking an administration that has caused unnecessary harm to millions of innocent people.

It is not too late to have your voice heard. Go vote. Millions of us are relying on you using your voice to determine the future of this nation.

READ: Remembering The Victims Of The Orlando Shooting, Many Of Whom Were Latino

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Cuban-Americans Are Reaffirming Their Commitment To The GOP In 2020

Things That Matter

Cuban-Americans Are Reaffirming Their Commitment To The GOP In 2020

Alex Villalba / Getty Images

Few things are for certain when it comes to Latino voters. One of those certainties is that Cuban-Americans, unlike other Latino groups, are loyal to the Republican Party. So loyal that they are still giving their unwavering support in the Trump era.

A new study shows that Cuban-Americans are largely falling in line with Trump’s Republican Party.

Out of all of the Latino voters, Cubans have always been a reliable voting bloc for the Republican Party. Their vote has been important in winning Florida, a key swing state that has decided elections in the past. Over the past four years, Cuban support for the GOP has remained steady despite the younger generation of Cubans leaning Democratic.

“Historically, Cuban Americans have backed the Republican Party in large numbers, but that support has at times softened as a new generation of U.S.-born, Democratic-leaning Cubans has come of age,” reads the Pew Research Center article. “In 2013, similar shares of Cuban registered voters identified with the Republican Party (47 percent) and the Democratic Party (44 percent). That same year, 60 percent of non-Cuban Hispanic voters identified as Democratic and 28 percent as Republican.”

Cubans are the most politically active community in the Latino demographic.

According to the study, Cubans are more likely to vote than other Latino groups. Fifty-eight percent of eligible Cuban voters voted in 2016 compared to 55 percent of Dominicans, 49 percent of Salvadorans, 46 percent of Puerto Ricans, and 44 percent of Mexicans.

According to the Census Bureau, most Cuban voters (55 percent) in the U.S. are naturalized citizens. This means that most Cuban voters in the U.S. were born in Cuba and are voting with that mentality.

Cubans, however, are voting against their own interest when it comes to healthcare.

Credit: Pew Research Center

According to the study, Cubans, like other Latinos, do believe that healthcare is an important issue. However, their vote for the Republican Party further places healthcare out of reach for millions of Americans. While Cubans claim that healthcare is an important issue, the Trump administration is suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which gives millions of Americans access to healthcare.

The 2020 elections are heating up and Florida is a key state in the road to the White House.

People are watching this election closely. Record numbers of people have already gone to vote early. Millions of people are voting in mail-in and early voting to secure a future they want to see for the country.

READ: Latino Voters Could Decide The 2020 Election, So Why Did Only 5 Presidential Candidates Show Up To A Latino Issues Forum?

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